5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness in Nature
By: Alycia Mantooth
What do you think of when hear the word “mindfulness?” Do you picture stillness, silence, someone seated cross-legged on a cushion? The “perfect” atmosphere for mindfulness is not always a quiet, serene setting. You can be walking in the middle of everyday life and practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is, “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them.”
One of the most powerful places to practice is in nature. Mindfulness in movement can even amplify your experience (so, naturally, I created a podcast with that title). Being fully present and aware is not something we easily slip into in our current culture. Choosing to be present and not judge where you find yourself, or the fact that your thoughts keep wandering, is the first step.
I started practicing mindfulness because my doctor told me to as part of my plan to alleviate anxiety. I had no clue where to start. I started reading everything I could find, downloaded all the free apps, and just fumbled my way through. The beautiful thing about it is there is no formula. You cannot do it perfectly or incorrectly; you just show up and try and you’re already halfway there.
Whether you are practicing in your living room, on a sidewalk or in the middle of a forest, here are a few helpful tips to get you started.
- Everything in life starts with breath, so don’t let it be an afterthought. Deep, intentional breathing slows heart rate, lowers stress and anxiety levels, is absolutely required for living, and helps to get you present by being aware of the air passing through your airways, filling your body, and moving back out. It is the best place to start.
- Don’t judge yourself. Seriously. This can be the hardest part and take the most practice (one reason it’s referred to as such). You will find your thoughts wandering, you will have to gently remind yourself to come back to the present, you will fight frustration toward yourself or the process...just don’t linger there. Give yourself space and time to get better at it. Every day will feel different, it really is a journey not an “arriving.”
- Don’t do it alone. A guided experience was what inspired me to start my podcast and help others. I needed a gentle reminder to come back to my breath or help me through different techniques. It’s ok to not grit your way through ten minutes of silence. This is where podcasts, audio books and apps really come in handy. Use the tools you have to help you and explore different experiences. Find what you like most.
- Notice what feelings and thoughts are stirred up from day to day when you practice mindfulness. Each day will feel different but it is a great indicator of what’s going on inside of you. Jot it down in your phone or a notebook and pay attention to things that you would never notice if you were intentionally putting aside life’s busyness for a few moments and being present in your surroundings and yourself.
One technique I want to leave you with helped me so much when I started, it is even something my kids love. I call it the “5-4-3-2-1 Experience.” After you take a few deep breaths notice five things with your eyes, that you see. Take your time with each one, noticing texture, movement, color, shape, size...before moving onto the next observation. After you have become aware of five sights, notice four things with your ears that you hear. Use these moments to make you fully present and don’t rush through them. Then move to three things you feel physically. Perhaps a breeze or your clothes rubbing your skin as you walk, or the gravel beneath your shoes. Then become aware of two smells and finish with one taste.
This, and other mindfulness techniques, allow you to be fully present, in the moment, in your body, and in your surroundings. Take a few minutes today and create a little space for yourself to practice being present, you might even discover a gratitude for the life you have - all the good, bad, and ugly bits.
This article was written by whole body health Coach Alycia Mantooth. Alycia is a Certified Health Coach from Health Coach Institute online. She builds off of that knowledge as well as her own 18 years of research and personal trial + error. Experience is a huge part of her coaching, because she wants to bring her clients along the journey. Alycia and her husband DJ are also worship leaders and the parents of 4 beautiful girls.